Mauna a Wakea – mountain of the Sky Father – home of the goddess Poli’ahu, the snow goddess of Maunakea. Her rival Pele, the goddess of volcanoes is an island on Mauna Loa. Fire and Ice with a summit – at 13,476 feet – that is the realm of the gods.
It was 9,200 feet up to the Mauna Kea visitor centre where JP and I were headed on a dark, clear evening. While we had previously visited the Keck Observatory with its 13 international telescopes and hiked to the actual summit, we had never been on the mountain after dark.
The road twisted its way slowly up the steep ascent, the blackness occasionally punctuated by the headlights of descending vehicles. The temperature dropped steadily from 83 degrees F in Kona to 48 degrees once we reached the visitor centre.
Lights were not permitted so as to preserve night vision. Dozens of telescopes aimed at specific star systems were set up, manned by volunteers who explained what we were seeing and how far away it was. One light year equals 186,000 miles/1 second. To me, these are mind bending concepts, especially when the stars in the night tapestry are so bright, so thick, and so close. Jupiter shone in full glory and we had a brilliant view of Alpha Centauri – not just a game but a real star system! Who knew?
Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light years away. That means 186,000 miles x 60 seconds x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days = miles in one light year x 4.37 light years = the distance Alpha Centauri is from the earth. To infinity and beyond, indeed.
We stayed until the visitor centre closed down for the night, watching from a dark picnic table in the parking lot, cocooned by the blanket of starry night. We felt tiny and insignificant compared to the grandeur around us, a minute part of something bigger than ourselves. These are the same stars ancient peoples saw, which explorers used to guide their ships and towards which peoples all over the world pray to their god. We are but specks of dust, within other specks of dust, timeless and infinite.
Starry starry night. Star light, star bright. May all of our wishes come true tonight.
An amazing evening to experience.